This Sunday is Mother’s Day — a time to recognize and reflect upon all the strengths and gifts mothers of all shapes and sizes bring to us over the years. The American holiday officially began by federal proclamation in 1914. Individual families celebrated a form of the occasion in earlier years, but all states celebrated a Mother’s Day by 1911. President Woodrow Wilson officially designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day to specifically recognize the many sacrifices mothers make.
Mothers are certainly unique, and absolutely deserve a day of celebration. We need mothers. There are various kinds of mothers, and we have come to value them for their wisdom, their attention to detail, their fierceness when it comes to their loved ones, but especially for their unwavering love and support. The care of a mother is certainly unique.
Increasingly, the art of mothering is not just a biological one. Some families are choosing adoption. Other women mentor children outside the home. There are all kinds of women who love children even when they do not have kids of their own.
Mothers both champion and chasten, and how we need both! We appreciate the championing, but it might take us longer to recognize the benefit of the chastening. As president John Quincy Adams was coming of age as a youth, his mother received news he was not using all of his physical and mental talents wisely. She wrote him a letter dated January 1780 in which she encouraged him to “live higher” and display a better character because he had been given much as a child. She was both championing and chastening.
By refusing to give up her seat on a city bus in 1955, Ms. Rosa Parks became a mother of the Civil Rights Movement. What began as a simple act of defiance led to a bus boycott in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. People walked to work or shared a carpool in order to protest the city’s bus segregation laws. After more than a year, the Supreme Court of the United States declared Montgomery’s bus ordinance unconstitutional. Park’s mother was a teacher.
Through the course of the last year, I have witnessed many teachers mothering their students in some way or another, online or in person. Teachers have always done so. There have been times for compassion and times for “tough love.” How many of our individual mothers share these qualities, too?
The same year Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat, a 14-year-old Black boy was murdered in Mississippi. His story transformed the Civil Rights Movement. His mother kept telling his story. She started a troupe of puppet performers to tell about the movement and spoke to audiences. She counseled children for the rest of her life. During the dedication of the National Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery in 1989, she said, “We must teach our children to weather the hurricanes of life, pick up the pieces, and rebuild. We must impress upon our children that even when troubles rise to seven-point-one on life’s Richter scale, they must be anchored so deeply that, though they sway, they will not topple.”
When she died, she was remembered not only as the mother of Emmett Till, but also as a woman who became a passionate spokeswoman for poor children in tough neighborhoods. In “The Death of Innocence,” Mamie Till Bradley Mobley recounts the many decisions she made to both grieve the loss of her son and protect other children. She is another mother of the movement.
As a competitive swimmer in my youth, I could hear my mom’s voice over anyone in the crowd during a race. It was always there, and it still is through the course of my teaching life. She asks about my classes and how they are going, and comments on many newspaper articles. She asks me how I am doing, and continues to mother me even as I age. Her love and compassion never ceases.
Not everyone is fortunate to have, or to have had, a purposeful mother. Therefore, Mother’s Day can be a tough and uneasy day. Hopefully, other women have filled in and helped. Still, we should honor our mothers whomever and wherever they are.
As it happens every year, many mothers face the anguish of losing children and children face the same with their mothers. But love abounds in both directions and the kindnesses of a loving and caring mother, adopted mother, or mothering mentor never leaves us.
Their investment in us returns in spades, and their impact and instruction never disappears.
Thank goodness. Better yet, thank your mother.
Brent Tomberlin is a social studies instructor at South Caldwell High School and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.